The stories in numbers

Last night I stumbled across one of the most inspirational and best-presented documentaries I’ve seen in years. Typically it was on in the middle of the night and a brief summary (a history of statistics presented by a Swedish professor) might make you think it was one from the early canon of Open University spectaculars.

However, Professor Hans Rosling is one of the most exciting and engaging presenters I’ve seen on television in a long time. After a long day in the office, his quirky, amusing and insightful jaunt through the past, present and possible future of statistics was gripping. If you missed it, you can look at The Joy of Statistics on BBC iPlayer.

One of the most engaging aspects was his demonstration of how the stories of numbers are often best told through visual depiction.

For instance, I had no idea that Florence Nightingale was a statistician. It was her meticulous record-keeping translated into startling pictures that drove the changes in nursing that she instituted:

Over a hundred years later, people like David Mccandless make their living finding ways to translate complex information into more readily understandable pictorial form.  On his Information Is Beautiful blog he finds different and exciting visualisations of statistical data. The Billion-pound-o-gram is his way of making those mad, large numbers more comprehensible:

Perhaps the most spectacular use of animation was Professor Rosling’s depiction of the progress of countries in terms of their life expectancy and their income. His enthusiasm, love and knowledge are a real joy to behold. To really see a story told in numbers, watch this little snippet below:

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Lego goes loco… Russian-style #lego

Lego was always a favourite toy.

Spaceships, towns, castles… But I never got quite as creative as the Russian who has mixed Lego with the online game Team Fortress 2 and stop-motion animation to create an ultra-violent tribute to one of gaming’s most popular online shooters.

As a gamer, a film enthusiast and a Lego lover of old, this is great. Complete with menacing Russian narration.

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Boyhood memories – Transformers and an obsession too far?

There’ll be plenty of people of my generation (mainly men with nerdy secrets I suspect) who, notwithstanding the CGI wonders of Michael Bay’s special effects-fest, have a special fondness for the animated series of Transformers and the tinny beep of “Tranformers Robots in Disguise” over  the dark thunderings of Linkin Park’s “New Divide” (I imagine my younger  brother Seth is among them!).

Very amusing then to open Metro this morning and to see a story about Drew Beummier, a contestant on American Idol, who has discovered that “chicks find it sexy” when he wears his home-made Transformer suit.

Apart from wondering if Em thinks I’ve missed a trick somewhere along the line, I do wonder if this is taking fond childhood memories a step too far?

Anyway, he’s hoping to have the suits on sale in the UK soon…

More violent food stuff advertising – this time with muppets

You could be forgiven for thinking that part of the appeal of “Never say ‘No’ to Panda” is the peculiar novelty of seeing pretend animals acting in unexpectedly violent ways.  However, I was shocked to discover possible antecedents in the early work of Jim Henson and an era of “muppet ultraviolence” that hitherto had passed me by.

In 1957, Henson was contacted by Washington DC-based Wilkins Coffee. They asked him to produce a series of 10 second adverts for local tv stations. Between 1957 and 1961 he made – according to the Muppet Wiki – 179 ads, in which Kermit-forerunner Wilkins, the Wilkins Coffee-lover, attacks Wontkins, the Wilkins Coffee-hater, in varyingly violent ways.

The question I have is… Whatever happened to Wilkins Coffee?

Surprisingly, there’s very little information out there, even in the vast cyber-wilderness of the Internet. According to a poster on Michael Procopio’s blog Food for the Thoughtless:

Wilkins sold the roasting plant to The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company in 1970 and continued to distribute Wilkins Coffee from Landover, Maryland. Halco, a public company, purchased Wilkins in 1974 and the division was called Halco/Wilkins Food Service. Wilkins was once again separated and sold in 1982.

There the trail seems to go cold and there are few if any references to what happened to Wilkins Coffee. A second poster on the same site reports that the name was bought by Royal Cup Coffee but notes that there are no products sold with that branding.

Frustratingly, there appears to be very little information available about Wilkins Coffee before its murderous muppet adventures. The only thing I could find is a tantalising early reference in this list of radio programmes which details a 15 minute transmission on WRC (National Broadcasting Co.) at 6.30pm EST on Friday 3rd October 1930 by the Wilkins Coffee Orchestra.

I wonder how big a phenomena that was? I wonder how proud the members of this now-forgotten ensemble must have felt to hear themselves broadcast over the airwaves?

There must have been countless numbers of similar artistic ventures sponsored by companies that are now barely footnotes in our global industrial history. Wilkins Coffee, boasting advertising budgets that could fund hundreds of television ads, now really only survives in the global consciousness as an interesting chapter in the early history of the lunatic puppets created by Jim Henson.

If you can cope with the undoing of happy childhood memories of Kermit’s nephew Robin singing “Halfway Down The Stairs”, take a look at the clips below.

For those that missed it… “Never say ‘No’ to Panda”

I am not in any way claiming an original discovery here, not with 6,000,000+ views on You Tube. However, there is something darkly satisfying about the humour in this ad campaign by Egyptian company Advantage Marketing and Advertising/Elephant Cairo, the first Middle Eastern company to win a Cannes Lion Award. Created on behalf of Arab Dairy, “Never say ‘No’ to Panda” took a Silver Lion in 2010, as well as a Gold Award at Epica 2010

This series of adverts for Panda Cheese combines humour, subtle menace and explosive violence in a manner not normally associated with pandas. Images of the silent panda-suited star, juxtaposed with the cheerful twang of Buddy Holly’s True Love Ways, creates a sense of the surreal more redolent of Donnie Darko than your average cheese advert.

Dairy Lea it is not!

More than anything, though, it catches that moment in every day when there is nothing else to do but unleash your inner panda…

The soft drink calorie horror – check out the seriously scary doughnut value!

Men’s Health America has decided to scare the pants off us with a journey through the soft drink horror stories of the United States. Before we all scoff (ho ho), cluck and roll our eyes in knowing despair at our American cousins, we should remember that many of these brands are available here and we see them in school lunch boxes by the hundreds of thousands.

For instance, take the Rockstar Energy Drink.

According to Men’s Health America it contains the sugar equivalent of SIX Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Doughnuts.

That’s right: six doughnuts.

I mean, erm, WTH?!

Speaking as a diabetic, a few of those a day would make for an interesting experience… Seriously, though, how on earth can anyone think that has any serious nutritional value for your average, sofa-bound, pizza-gorging gamer addict?

To my mind these sorts of drinks are little more than legalised toxins. Check out the slide-show here.

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